Hunting for Beginners. By Ian Mark. Illustrated
by Louis Ghibault. Farshore. $9.99.
It all started with odor. Well, not exactly, but it got to the smelly
stuff soon enough. You see, ogres really stink, even when one of them “dropped
down dead backwards, which meant that he landed on top of the house.”
Oh, wait. It started a little before that, when Aunt Prudence showed up.
That was after Dad disappeared mysteriously. Dad “wasn’t bad, as dads go,” but
“just wasn’t very adventurous.” It turns out that this matters.
Monster Hunting for Beginners
is one of those books whose title is also the title of a book within the book. This matters, too. A
lot, in fact. The book’s narrator, Jack, encounters a very small and crotchety
man named Stoop who tricks Jack into becoming an apprentice monster hunter and
gives Jack a book that, in suitable magical fashion, takes on the title Monster Hunting for Beginners and
answers any questions that Jack may have about the topic. The answers are
usually useless (when not misleading), but this is not a high-intellect book.
In fact, Monster Hunting for Beginners
(the one by Ian Mark) is not a high-intellect book either, but it does not have
to be: it is strictly for fun, and there is plenty of fun in it.
The book – that is, the one by Ian Mark, which is the first of a planned
series – explains how Jack gradually discovers his monster-hunting prowess, of
which he does not have much, but luckily doesn’t actually need much. In line
with modern notions of being kind and gentle to all things at all times, even
ones that are trying to eat you, it turns out that the days of finding and
killing monsters, or even beating them up, are gone: monsters are now a
protected species (or multiple species) and have to be gently prevented from
causing mayhem and then released back into whatever environment is most
conducive to coddling them.
This makes Jack’s training even harder than it would otherwise have
been. Most of the training takes place in a town called King’s Nooze, whose
citizens are largely oblivious to the threat of a nearby gathering of
ogres-bent-on-mayhem-but-never-actually-committing-any. The town’s mayor is
nasty, arrogant, self-important, and constantly mocking of Jack and pretty much
everyone else, thereby becoming the most realistic character in the book, or at
least the most realistic politician. When Jack and Stoop get to King’s Nooze,
they meet not only the mayor but also a girl named Nancy who is a lot more adventurous
(and smarter) than Jack and Stoop and the ogres put together, and who soon
joins Jack in the ogre fight – sorry, the ogre
The book’s pervasive silliness, complete with footnotes on many pages
that enhance the ridiculousness of the main narrative – and really delightful
illustrations by Louis Ghibault – includes adventures with seven-league boots,
expandable clothing (the boots included), references to the Endangered Monsters
Act, the use of Berserker Brew, the rediscovery of the largest and most
terrifying ogre of all time (who turns out to be a pretty good guy…err, thing),
and lots and lots of stinkiness (since ogres pride themselves on smelling
really, really bad, and there are a lot
of them in and around King’s Nooze).
Examples of the writing, with footnotes: “The Mayor snorted scornfully. *It’s impossible to snort any other way.” “…driving for hours to a tumbledown house in the Middle of Nowhere… *Or it may have been slightly north of the Middle of Nowhere. He wasn’t sure. Everywhere looks the same in Nowhere.” And, let’s see, there is a whole subplot, or maybe it’s part of the same plot, about dragons not existing until it turns out that one does. And another subplot, or maybe part of the same plot, about a bear named Humbert who is displaced from his cave by the gathering of ogres but eventually helps save the day by joining the townspeople in a cabbage-pelting scene. And there are notes here and there from Monster Hunting for Beginners (the book-within-the-book one) about zomblings and anticores and crusted hairy snot nibblers. And there is much more, all of it equally ridiculous and most of it equally funny, and the only way to wade through all of it is to wade through the entirety of Monster Hunting for Beginners (the book itself, not the one within itself) – a slog that is thoroughly enjoyable even though it does tend to become sort of messy and smelly after a while, at least if you are reading it after having joined Jack and Nancy by temporarily turning into an ogre. But that’s another story – or, well, actually part of this one.